Archive: December, 2021

2021 Review

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 31, 2021, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

The end of the year seemed to arrive in a hurry, but this year, for me, seemed more ridiculous even than the last. It was a year of very intense highs and lows, some of which I haven't talked about in a public way, and won't here either. These retrospectives are useful to me, to compare and contrast previous years with what I just experienced.

Pandemic, year 2

I think we all looked at the end of last year, with the vaccines slowly rolling out, as the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Of course, it didn't turn out that way, but for none of the reasons that I expected. By April, adults could start to fall into two categories: vaccinated and not. I remember when I got the second shot, feeling kind of invincible. I was ready to do anything. Unfortunately, the year ended with more deaths in the US, not less, and especially by late spring, most of these were preventable.

Behaviors in the world became a little more normal. Simon went back to in-person school at the start of the year, as we were completely satisfied with the protocols in place for his public school. Diana returned to work as the theater complex opened a huge outdoor venue on their front lawn. We were able to buy back in to our Disney annual passes in April as well, and we used them a lot this year. There was even a period of time where masks were completely optional indoors at the theme parks. Mask requirements were still a thing in a lot of places for most of the year, but I didn't find it to be that big of a deal once I found a type that was comfortable. Even our Broadway season has resumed, and we've seen two shows so far this year. While there never was a real "lockdown" the year before, there was still far less restriction to what you could safely do this year, and that was a relief.

Simon got Covid right around the start of October. It wasn't a random mystery about where he got it, which still troubles me, but fortunately, the vaccines did their job as expected for me and Diana. Within a day of availability for the 5-11 cohort, Simon got his first vaccine dose, and the second three weeks later.

Now the omicron variant is out there, and while Diana and I have boosters, we're still trying to be relatively responsible. The disease is theoretically mild with this variant and our vaccination, today there's news that it isn't so rough on the lungs, but I think the bigger goal is not to be a transmission vector. The variant is moving faster than the science, which would be a little unnerving if it weren't for the fact that the breakthrough infections appear to be less serious. What's completely frustrating is that more people died this year than last, and for no good reasons. We had a solution. I think we're all pretty tired of the whole thing, but unfortunately fatigue doesn't change the potential outcomes or the science of it all. The uncertainty of when the pandemic really "ends" is exhausting.


I've run out of time to write this, so I'm going to keep this high level. Like pretty much everyone, I've had to ask myself where it is that work fits into my life. More than ever, how a company handles its environmental, social and governance issues matters to the people who work for it, as well as investors. It feels like a huge opportunity, the idea that companies might need to have a conscience. They could succeed where individuals and government can't by using financial influence for good. I'll write more about that when I have more time.

The hobby business

Last year I launched POP Forums as a managed service, and never did anything to promote it. This year was the same story. I just don't have anything left at the end of the day to put energy into selling something, which is kind of a bummer because I'm really proud of the work I did to make it available to anyone with a credit card. I even have some ideas about how to promote it that would be relatively low cost, but I just haven't acted on the ideas.

As for the aging content business, it made a gigantic rebound. Last year's 32% revenue decrease was offset by an increase of 80% this year. Heck, that's 22% over 2019. And mind you, that's entirely Google. I don't have a backup anymore. Traffic was essentially flat on CoasterBuzz and up in terms of user count by a third on PointBuzz. I at least covered one of my car payments, and that I think makes it worth the effort.

If that sounds skeptical, maybe it is. I wonder after 20+ years if I'm just going to one day lose interest. I worked pretty hard to get at least most of the stuff up to date this year and not using any older technology. Everything is cloud-based, redundant and crazy fast. Heck, it even runs on Linux under the covers, which is something I never expected back in the day.

I would love to build something new, to sell, but it would have to be something that I find useful, and I honestly don't know what that is. I would also inevitably run into the situation where I wouldn't be that interested in selling it.

Acts of creation

That crazy amount of stuff I made in 2020? It did not carry over into 2021. I'm not going to lie, I actually feel bad about this now that I'm at the end of the year. In my defense, I had a lot of other things to worry about (read on), but it doesn't feel good to say that I didn't make very many things.

My open source commits were not nearly as impressive as the two years before, where I exceeded 100 straight weeks of contributions. My 2021 total was only 204, compared to 360 the year before. Most of that was concentrated on all of the stuff for the POP Forums v18 release, which in my defense required me to touch most files. I only made 11 commits to MLocker, my personal music cloud, the entire year, but I'm still very proud of that project. I use it every single day.

I ended last year with the intention of really going nuts with videos for SillyNonsense, but I only did a few early in the year, and a few at the end of the year. Not proud of that either. I have a ton of ideas still, and tons of stuff on my computer that could be videos. I'm still not even sure what my intention is with these. There's no coherent goal, I just want to make videos.

I completely abandoned my Modern Gen-X radio show, even though I'm still getting various radio stations picking up the episodes that I did last year. Some have even asked for more. In my defense, part of the reason for that is the fact that so little new music really grabbed me enough to want to do it (see previous post for annual playlist).

Some of my disengagement is connected to my declining interest in social media, which is for some reason tied to the big content distribution channels. So few of my friends are really using Facebook actively now, which is depressing given the distributed nature of my real life social network. It feels like making stuff that they would want to see or use is what would make it more worth it. To that end, I actually prototyped a social media network. It's a web app, but it does some basic stuff. I wonder if I'll ever go further with it.


This was a challenging year for health in our house. Simon was relatively healthy aside from the Covid. Diana has had better success with migraines, but it still wasn't great. She's also had some serious back pain that resulted in crazy painful shots, and she may need more. I don't know how she manages to be such a great and positive force in the world as she manages these pains, but she does it.

My health story was pretty serious from a long-term perspective, if not immediate. Orlando Health fired my doctor and the others in that office last year (yeah, during a pandemic), and the replacement did not impress me when I saw him for my annual in 2020. One of the excused doctors from that office opened her own private practice in the spring, and I finally got in to see her in August.

My labs came back with three things she wanted to correct: hypothyroidism, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. The latter two were familiar issues, and I just thought they were off because I didn't get enough exercise. But the thyroid, that was something no doctor was previously looking at. She put me on levothyroxine which at first made me erratic, full of energy then crashing hard, but two weeks in it leveled out. Six weeks later, it wasn't moving the needle much in my labs, so she doubled the dosage. I went through another adjustment period, but by the start of October, I realized that I was not having the fatigue that I thought was mostly mental. My weight even started to slowly decrease. It has made me feel better when I didn't know I didn't feel good. I'm generally more energetic and sleep better.

Next up was a statin to get the cholesterol under control, and sure enough that came down as well. The triglycerides were still high, and she put me on a crazy dose of omega-3 stuff that I'm not sure is right. She observed that my tri's went up between my last two labs, but I think that's in part because I stopped taking the OTC omega-3's she said I didn't need (they were recommended by the previously canned doctor). Not sure where this will land, but I'm terrible about consistently taking them since they go with food.

The idea that I have to take drugs though to be healthy is psychologically challenging. It likely will extend my life, but I went from no drugs to three. Well, four if you consider I also take an antihistamine every day because it apparently mitigated my IBS problem. I ended up taking generic Zyrtec almost every day in the spring because pollen was nuts, and I noticed that I wasn't having IBS symptoms. There are some studies that show antihistamines may help, so I just kept taking it.

I also had my first colonoscopy this year, as well as an endoscopy. I was technically overdue for the colonoscopy since the guidelines for screening were moved up a few years. The colonoscopy showed that I have harmless diverticulosis, which is pretty normal for my age, because everyone gets it by the time they're dead. Beyond that, the doctor didn't find any polyps to remove and I'm good for ten years. The endoscopy was to see if anything weird was going on to cause my difficulty swallowing, a phenomenon I only have every few months. Nothing to see there except some erosion caused by acid reflux, so I'm taking an acid reducer temporarily for that.


Mental health is something that I take very seriously, and I was deliberate about seeing a therapist this year. I did a ramp up with a new one earlier in the year, and then began spacing out the appointments to monthly, but I find it very valuable. Expensive as it is, I'm "good at it" with the right person, able to really come up with an agenda and be outcome driven. This new therapist really gets me and she has really helped me navigate all of the weird shit in life.

What I probably waited too long to do was see a psychologist about confirming or disproving my theory that I too have autism spectrum disorder. To no surprise, of course I do. While Simon has a different journey thus far, and ahead of him, there were too many similarities between his experience and my childhood to just overlook it. My previous therapist said it was likely, as did the new one, but they're not technically qualified to do the diagnostics. So I spent hours digging up my childhood and got a nice report that profiles where I am.

I also have an official ADHD diagnosis to go with the ASD, which is interesting, because I don't think that it is a deterrent to the way I operate, for the most part. It actually may be beneficial to me as a manager, because it seems like it helps me to context switch and see the next thing to act on. The two things together help me to reduce ambiguity to an appropriate level to benefit everyone that I work with, which is kind of cool and feels like a super power.

As I mentioned last month, I'm not exactly sure yet what to do with this information. The more immediate thing is that I find myself able to give myself a little room for the things that I considered personality flaws in my childhood and even into my 20's. By that I mean not dislike myself for difficult relationships, disregard for school work, or even my impatience in learning to write code early in my career. Those were not personality flaws, they were situations influenced by my wiring, which I didn't understand at the time. I have so many memories of thinking, "Why can't I just do this thing, this way," and thinking less of myself for it. I didn't even know what ADHD was at the time.

I think I'll be feeling out what to do with it all for a long time going forward. I have unintentionally developed all kinds of coping skills and adjustments to compensate for things that are difficult. The big change is that now I can see where those accommodations to the world can wear me down and cause exhaustion. So for example, if I'm in a large gathering of people, and I need to retreat for 15 minutes, that's OK, I'm going to do that. I see that I've developed strong "people skills," but I also see that it can be draining to use them, and that's OK.

Family and parenting

For all of the things I found difficult this year, being married to Diana was not one of them. Just out of casual conversation with other married people, I fully appreciate how easy our relationship is by comparison. I'm not saying we never encounter problems, but they're infrequent and resolved quickly. This has been a big year for me and self-awareness, and I know that I have a long history of not being well understood in relationships, and not always seeing them from the other person's point of view. For whatever reason, Diana gets me, and I get her, and it works really, really well. I don't take that for granted.

Parenting, on the other hand, isn't getting easier. I love Simon dearly, but I long for the days of changing diapers and not being able to sleep overnight, because that was easy by comparison. I didn't go overboard researching car seats and educational toys back then, but even for the amount of winging it, I know now that it was really distilled down to three things: Feed him when he's hungry, put him down when he's tired, change his diaper when it's full. That's literally all you need to know about parenting for the first year. It might be exhausting, but it isn't hard to figure out. That period ends very quickly.

As puberty approaches and feelings get more intense, it feels a little like a powder keg when mixed with ADHD and ASD. I'm astounded at his ability to build complex LEGO sets and kick my ass playing Halo on Xbox, but he lacks the patience and discipline to learn what he needs to. Like me at that age, he still struggles socially. He's not well equipped to adapt. Despite the need for routine, he fights the bedtime routine every night. His impulsivity in particular is difficult to manage, whether it's interrupting to talk or making poor decisions about how to respond to prompts. Few things are ever easy.

Last year in the public school, he did merely OK, which is to say that he passed, but as much as I tend to discount the standardized testing, he was a few points below acceptable in the reading and writing part. Our bigger concern though was that he would most certainly not be set up for success going to a typical middle school with 1,800 other kids, so Diana went the distance and researched private alternatives. He's eligible for state funding, so trying it out was a no-brainer. The results have been mixed, and are still very concerning. Socially, he has thrived, which is to say he's kind of found "his people." He has a "best friend." On the other hand, we're skeptical that he's learning at the level that he should, and could. His report card is all A's and essentially perfect, which given last year, means he's either not being challenged or not being properly evaluated, or both. If that weren't enough, two out of three of his teachers observed no problems on his developmental pediatrician's questionnaire, which is a huge red flag in a school that's supposed to help kids with ADHD and ASD. He certainly struggles with homework, so what exactly is going on there? This begs the question about what we do next. It's a source of constant stress.

Now, I don't want to paint a picture that it's all bad. We're seeing a lot more self-awareness this year, and Simon is getting better at understanding which feelings he's having, even if he doesn't always effectively handle them. That's huge. I'm also surprised to hear him recently explain things to me sometimes in a cohesive narrative, though it's usually just about things that interest him. He's openly expressing gratitude and appreciation more frequently. He has a strong desire to help and volunteer, which is validating because it feels like we're raising a good human being.

I think the best way to summarize the stress and anxiety around parenting is that we just want him to grow up to be a self-sufficient adult. I appreciate more than ever what it's like to enter the world as someone who is a little different, and I don't want it to be hard for him the way it was for me. I really do think that he's super intelligent, but the ADHD in particular seems to interfere with the manifestation of that. I think this will be a critical year for him, and we don't want to screw it up. It's a lot of pressure.


Our ragdolls Finn and Poe have been very much perfect cats. I don't know how behaviors can be breed standard, but they do all of the stereotypical things. Most charmingly, they flop at your feet, stick their legs in the air, and demand belly rubs. It's fantastic. I've never had cats this amazing before. They're not quite two years old yet, but I can't imagine not having them. The loss of Emma and Oliver last year was tough, and while I'll always have fond memories of them, Finn and Poe level up the pet game. They're beautiful animals loaded with personality.

Diana also has her heart set on having a black cat. We tried fostering an adult cat earlier this year, and it turned the boys into real bastards. They did not get along and it was clear that we risked changing their personalities. He went back to the organization that Diana volunteers for, and eventually landed in a good home as a single cat. We now have a kitten who is only a few months old. So far, the boys mostly aren't sure what to think of him in their short introductions, but the kitten hisses at them growls with the noise of a cat four times his size. We're using toddler gate therapy for them to get to know each other, but it's too early to tell how it will go. If it doesn't work out, there's little doubt the little charmer will find a home.


During the spring of last year, Diana and I started messing around with temporary tattoos, which look pretty realistic and are durable for a week or so, because we've both been talking about real ones for years. She had her first when she was 30, so in her case, she's been thinking about it for two decades. The pandemic hit, and that went on hold, but this year we made it real.

I had narrowed it down to two things over many years, and I kind of knew I would end up doing both. The first was the phrase "laugh at the wonder of it all," a lyric from the song "Sound" by the band James (they're huge in the UK) on my forearm. The second was a mandala-compass rose hybrid that mostly I just thought would look cool on my calf. I went to the same guy for both, appreciating his skill and precision for line work.

I remember in my 20's being into tattoos but unable to reconcile the idea of getting one, given its permanence. Now, I just don't see how I could overthink it like that. Certainly I wouldn't want to get something silly or go to a hack "artist," but it's not that big of a deal. I enjoy the process, and there's something even satisfying about the pain. As long as you're into it, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I really love both of them, and wonder why I waited so long. I wouldn't rule out another one.

Diana also found a guy in Tampa that sort of freehands floral designs, after seeing a friend get hers. So now she has a lovely design on her upper arm and shoulder, and it's really cool.

I think I've always been a tattoo and piercing person, I just didn't have the tattoos. Crazy that I went 16 years between the latter and the former.

Travel and vacation

The only thing we did last year was spend a few days in a beach rental in July, a small privately owned thing with maybe a dozen little condos. It was still weird since it didn't include going to restaurants and doing stuff. This year, we started in January by renting a single-family home right on the beach in Melbourne. It had a hot tub. I worked from there during the day, overlooking the ocean, so I didn't even take time off. It was completely glorious. I've never felt more peaceful and rested. I don't know why, but being near the ocean feels amazing. If I can figure out how to make it happen financially, a small oceanfront place is one I wouldn't mind being my last house.

Once we were fully vaccinated in April, we were ready to start venturing into the world. When we obtained our passes for Walt Disney World, I got an ad for reduced rates for certain nights at certain hotels, and it felt like a good opportunity to stay on the property. We seem to do that about every two years, to enjoy the pools and pool bars and see the parks like tourists, including the transportation. We stayed at Art of Animation in July and totally surprised Simon. It was fun to get away for a bit, though the weather made it tough to regularly enjoy the Skyliner, the gondola ride that goes from there to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

The fall brought us out to Venice to stay with my father-in-law, after not seeing him in person for a year and a half. That's a nice distraction and mini road trip under three hours, and we did that twice.

Our first legitimate, leave the state (and the country) vacation was on Disney Cruise Line, for our 20th cruise. That was something of a mixed bag, not because of Covid mitigation, but because Simon's behavior was erratic. Two nights were awesome, two were not. We also ate too much, and spent some time being fairly uncomfortable for it. It's like we forgot how to travel!

On our original timeline, we thought we were going to Alaska last summer, without Simon, and then this year we would go to Northern Europe. I don't know what's next. The problem isn't where, it's whether or not we can travel with Simon. He's going through a phase where he's difficult to travel with.

Fiscal situation

This year was a lot like last year. We didn't spend a lot of money. We did add a new car payment though because we eventually felt like we had to replace Diana's car after the accident. I felt like we should put a bunch of money down, but interest rates were so low that it didn't seem like a good idea. In fact, I didn't pay off the older car either, because these loans are all sub-2%. It makes way more sense to sock away that money in investments, so that's what we did this year. I mean, even my IRA, which I never look at, managed to squeeze out a 7% gain this year. It's weird that paying off debt, when it's cheap, isn't the goal.

I tried investing small amounts in various things that seemed likely to recover this year, specifically theme parks and cruise lines, but I had pretty mixed results. Half I cashed out at 10%, the other half are down 15% or more and I still have them. I made like a grand in the process, but I'm under on the other side. I learned that I don't have the stomach for that kind of investing. I will continue to put stuff in mutual funds and ETF's that mostly just reflect the market.

This year we finally became founding donors at our local arts center, something that we've talked about for years but finally felt comfortable enough to do this year. Like last year, we might have been stingy about buying stuff, but we tried to make meaningful donations to the usual charities and social advocacy groups.

World outlook

To say that we got off to a rough start, with the insurrection on January 6, is an understatement. A very loud series of politicians have created a false narrative about the integrity of democracy, and a minority part of the population has bought in to it to further erode the integrity of the democracy they're worried about. It doesn't make a lot of sense. More concerning though is that we live in a nation that is still not being represented by its majority, which is not the batshit crazy people who stormed the Capitol. That really concerns me.

But the wider concern is that we, as a global society, can't seem to see the truth that's in front of us. We can see the planet becoming less inhabitable, but some still want to debate that it's a problem. We can see that inequity along racial, gender and economic lines exists, but we don't address it. We have a solution to a global pandemic, but we don't embrace it. I have to remind myself that it could be worse, if we look back to the days when slavery was legal and women couldn't vote, but the biases of those seemingly ancient eras are still with us.

With that in mind, we've certainly seen extraordinary positives as well. It was a good year for charitable giving. The economics of energy production are starting to favor renewables. People seem to want sustainable transportation, even if the auto makers are slow getting there. Diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming core values in companies along side environmental, social and governance priorities. There is positive change happening in the world, it's just hard to see over the negative stuff.

The pandemic has triggered a lot of questions about what "normal" means, but I think that it's clear that our normal before wasn't very good. We can do better.

Midlife adjustment

I learned in recent years that "midlife crisis" is actually a quasi-clinical term that describes a person in their mid-40's who has a crisis of identity and purpose, and that it may include intense depression, anxiety, and possibly erratic behavior. I thought that maybe I was having one of those, but it was pointed out to me that all of that stuff has to be triggered by age to be a midlife crisis. The truth is that I've had waves of these feelings at other points in my life, like when I was 32 and getting divorced. When it comes to age, the truth is that I actually really like being 40-something. It's the first time in my life that I've felt like I have wisdom and am not prone to doing silly things that I would when I was younger.

With that in mind, I think the trigger for the feelings and actions have more to do with the pandemic, the new requirement for medications and the stress of parenting more than anything else. There's a lot to unpack there, and the joy and pain has felt heightened this year. I suppose I've acted out, but even the tattoos weren't exactly spontaneous. The most damage I did buying things was a Pac-Man machine, and I've been meditating on that for years too. I did, very briefly, entertain buying a Porsche since they finally have an electric model, but even that was instigated by Diana's accident right before the last new year. That would have qualified as a crisis!

What really materialized in the way of adjustments includes the aforementioned focus on saving and investing. I guess the uncertainty has pushed me in a direction that wants to increase the odds of long-term stability. There's the focus on where work fits in my overall life. I've reaffirmed my desire to get out into the world, even if travel is not always easy or practical right now. I do legitimately want my health to be better even if I dread admitting that I'm genetically predisposed to hypothyroidism and high-ish cholesterol.

The biggest thing is that I don't want to feel like things are always on fire. That's what life was like this year. Much of it was out of my control. Getting there will require looking for peace and not letting the ridiculousness of the world get to me. I am, after all, equipped with the wisdom to do that.

But am I content?

I used to ask the question about whether or not I was happy, but I've come to realize that it isn't the right question. Happiness is not a thing that occurs at all times, and it's not realistic. I think it's true that you can't know happiness without knowing pain. I think what ultimately matters is whether or not you're content, which is the feeling that you're OK in the moment, not wanting for things and generally able to appreciate that moment. Most of the time, I think that I am content. But I felt like I was intermittently tired much of the year, just mentally drained. Maybe the thyroid had something to do with that, but even now... we've had a rough year. I find myself being more deliberate about leaning on my sense of wonder and curiosity as a means to focus on things that are constructive.

I can't make any predictions about how 2022 will go. The good news is that I'm fully prepared to embrace that uncertainty, because at no time in my life could I have predicted where I would be next beyond some general, high-level goals. I think that embrace can set you free a bit.

2021 Playlist

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 31, 2021, 11:59 AM | comments: 0

This was a weird year for music, and it resulted in a playlist that is one of the shortest I've had in years. There are only 22 songs. The last time it was this short was 2012. This year did result in some of the most extraordinary albums I've collected in years, and it's wonderful and refreshing to have this situation.

It was a weak year for one-off singles, but that might be partly a discovery issue on my end. Neither of our cars have SiriusXM anymore, and while I was happy to pay for the streaming-only subscription, valuing that curated, DJ-driven experience, my beloved AltNation stopped appealing to me. Part of the problem is that they kept leaning into this homogenous emo crap that all sounds the same. For real, how many people does Travis Barker have to work with? But I also started to question their overall approach. They completely overlooked what was easily one of the best indie rock albums I've heard in years. So I reluctantly dropped them, relying on LiveXLive, formerly Slacker, which is what the cars use.

That best indie rock album? Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice. I'm not kidding when I say that it's likely to place as one of my all time favorites. I mean, I wrote an entire blog post just about it. There isn't a single throw-away song on it. Every one of them is good to great. The last time I was this obsessed over an album was probably 2013, when I listened to In Rolling Waves nonstop by The Naked And Famous. (Honorable mention that year also to Grouplove's Spreading Rumours.) Wolf Alice's previous albums were good, but they just leveled up to a totally new place. It really has everything, from throw down noise to piano ballads. It's so flipping good.

Garbage, still probably ranking as my favorite band of all time, released No Gods No Masters, and unfortunately, it wasn't what I hoped for. Over time, their previous 2016 album Strange Little Birds, ended up leap frogging to my second favorite by them after the debut, because it was very much Garbage but evolved and sharper and noisier. No Gods has some really good songs, but it's very uneven, and lyrically crosses into preachy and too direct. It feels like a social media rant, and not the deep and emotional art I'm used to. It's not a total loss, it's just not their best work.

The other big surprise this year was If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power from Halsey. I was kind of familiar with her from her appearances on SNL, and I had heard her in other places. She was hard to classify, but pretty cool. Then she had the Nine Inch Nails boys produce this album, and it's fucking fantastic. The Trent Reznor influence is obvious, but not overpowering. When you take an indie pop singer and songwriter and give her an industrial edge, it's magic.

Foo Fighters essentially made a dance album in Medicine At Midnight, and it too is fabulous, if a little short. Grouplove made another solid album, This Is This, but I keep wanting something as irresistible as Rumours from them. Lorde made a great album, and Billie Eilish did too, if a little on the slow side.

There were a few notable singles, right at the start of the year. Some usual favorites, like Alice Merton, Glass Animals, Fitz and The Tantrums, AJR and Beck (a little late on that one) landed in the list. I'm totally enamored with newcomer Beabadoobee. I also added the fun cat-sampled Meredith Bull song because it was stuck in my head, and I found that great cover of the play-off music from Come From Away.

So here you go... the short but solid list for 2021. Here's the playlist on YouTube.


Going from not-a-racist to anti-racist

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 27, 2021, 7:11 PM | comments: 0

I recently overheard a conversation, between white people, expressing concern about what was being taught in schools around historical figures, insisting that things were "taken out" of history books because of the duality of many figures' role in racism. Putting aside for a moment that schools aren't funded well enough to be suddenly replacing books on a whim, the conversation from there went to the usual inventory about knowing black people and other cringe-worthy declarations that intend to make the case for not being a racist, but unintentionally invalidate the real results of discrimination.

I don't understand the psychology of this scenario exactly, but I suspect that part of the problem is that some white folks feel like they're being challenged, and that makes them feel deeply uncomfortable. That's a reasonable response for someone who does not have the information to be empathetic, but it doesn't make it OK. The challenge is to get them to think not like someone who is defensive about being racist, but someone who is anti-racist. There's a serious difference.

To be anti-racist means to acknowledge that the deck is still stacked against people of color, and to openly oppose forces that contribute to or reinforce that racism. This acknowledgement doesn't mean that you yourself are racist, or created the situation. Not being racist isn't enough to help fix the problem. We can't simply declare that it isn't our fault. Of course it isn't, but I compare it to the simplicity of picking up litter. You didn't throw that garbage on the ground, but picking it up is the right thing to do. Now multiply the importance of that, because it's about humans, not discarded items.

And yes, there are certainly conversations to have about history. The suggestion that anyone is trying to remove people from history is simply not true. But it doesn't mean that there aren't discussions to be had about the role of historical figures in the persistence of racism. This isn't new. That George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners was not overlooked in my grade school history classes. You won't see it glossed over in recent works either (like Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life). It's absolutely appropriate to talk through this. Washington can in fact be both a pivotal founding father and someone who completely failed to take on slavery, because factually, that's what he was.

So how do you get someone from not-a-racist to anti-racist? I don't have the answer to that. I think that I'm admittedly programmed myself to prove that I'm right more than I am to change minds for something like that. The morality of anti-racism is clear and correct to me, but I don't know how you explain it in a non-confrontational way. It doesn't help when your target is blind by their own selection bias that puts them in front of a Fox News screen, or worse, the shady parts of YouTube.

Critical thinking and journalism

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 27, 2021, 3:54 PM | comments: 0

The issue of critical thinking came up today on one of my sites, and someone outright asked if I thought that people were capable of doing it. My answer is absolutely, yes. I don't believe that people are inherently stupid, but they may make choices to be willfully ignorant, which is something different. The bigger discussion though was around sniffing out good journalism from bad. I don't think it's that difficult.

First off, especially from anyone who grew up with three TV networks and one or more local newspapers with wide distribution, there was a time where the integrity and trustworthiness of news organizations was pretty obvious. You had three guys on network TV competing for your trust, and at best two local newspapers. Getting it right and delivering actual news was a moral imperative. Now, with endless sources of "media," that imperative no longer exists. Most now strive just to give you what you want.

It isn't hard to sniff out what's factual and valuable. You can't just throw your hands up and yell "but the media!" The first test is whether or not the news agency has true autonomy to report the facts. Because deregulation lifted ownership limits, many broadcast stations have the same owner, and you've seen the clips of editorials that use the same copy nationally to advance an agenda. That's not independent. But even for huge conglomerates, sometimes the news agencies take actions that prove their autonomy from their parent. Compare the disciplinary firings or demotions from CBS and NBC to the non-action of Fox News, for example.

Print journalism, even online, has the ability to be accountable to the public by opening itself as a public forum. This is one reason I admire the New York Times, because they've printed some batshit crazy things from politicians, and they've taken heat for it. Their comment engine moderation does not exclude unpopular opinions.

Fundamentally, good journalism is about facts though, and it's not hard to see that without deep analysis. If something is reported, how has it been verified? What backs up the facts? Are there multiple sources? Have the facts been quantified, measured or validated in context? Does the headline support the facts or color their meaning? In the case of government or fiscal power, does it act as a monitor or advocate? You can generally answer all of these questions with anything that you read. This is intro to journalism kind of stuff, but everyone should learn to ask these questions when they get their "news." In fact, it should start with understanding the difference between news and opinion, something that cable news in particular tends to blur, but the difference should be obvious.

I'm not ready to write off society as being incapable of critical thinking.

Cruise XX: Disney Dream, Bahamas

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 25, 2021, 2:37 PM | comments: 0

After two years of non-cruising, we made our triumphant return to the Disney Dream last week for a four-night spin around the Bahamas. It had a lot of ups and downs, and certainly some weirdness because of Covid, but I did intermittently have the opportunity to completely turn off my brain and leave the world behind. That's why we keep doing these things. It's vacation travel without the stress of travel or having to make decisions.

First off, pre-pandemic, we had two cruises booked. The first would have been the Dream's last sailing before shutting down, a three-nighter out of Canaveral. They allowed cancellations up until the day before because of the impending doom, and we opted to do that. It wasn't out of safety concerns at that point, it was because we had an asshat president that might now allow Americans off of ships in the case of infection. In retrospect, I kind of wish we would have taken the cruise. We let Disney hold the fare in this case, which also helped us retain the onboard credit associated with the reservation. The second one we had booked was Alaska at the end of June 2020, and it was just going to be me and Diana for our longest no-child vacation. Simon was going to stay in Seattle with his cousins. That one was cancelled for us, obviously. If we allowed them to hold that fare, we would have had a 125% credit, but given how uncertain the world felt at the time, and how expensive it was, I wanted the money back. In any case, the earlier three-night was the basis for this one, and since the money felt long gone, and we were looking for reasons to celebrate, we decided to do this one in concierge.

The testing protocol evolved a bit, but at this point, adults have to be fully vaccinated to sail. Their crew is too, and they all need a booster by some approaching date. Kids need a negative PCR test taken between 1 and 3 days before boarding, although that changed too since 5 and up can now get the vaccine. Simon got his right away, so he was fully vaccinated (including the two weeks) by about five days, meaning we didn't have to do any advance testing. Once you arrive, you have to do a rapid test, which is just swabbing the inside of your nose, and then wait in your car before you can board. We had our results in about a half-hour, but had to wait another half-hour after that because the Coast Guard was onboard doing an inspection.

Onboard policy is to use a mask indoors unless you're eating or drinking. Of course, most of what you do on the ship is eating and drinking, so it's a little weird, especially given the testing. The ship was operating at reduced capacity, which in this case it sounds like it was around 2,500 guests. They can do 4,000 if every room is at capacity. The dining rooms have fewer tables, and they stagger seating in the theater to the point that not everyone can see every show. The theatrical thing is odd, because our local theater is operating near capacity with masks. Now, pre-omicron variant, given the testing protocols, a lot of what they're doing exceeds the science. But then this week, a Royal Caribbean cruise with similar testing protocol (and way more people) generated 48 cases. With the variant, vaccination has to be up to booster level, so the rules might make more sense now. Honestly, it's not a big deal at this point, as I'm used to it.

Check-in is radically different since before the pandemic. First, the bag drop-off area is more than double the length, so it doesn't get backed up. Once you enter the terminal, you first queue in a largely expanded front of the building to check-in. There are still separate lines for Platinum Castaway Club and concierge, but now you're just walking up to people with devices. You do most of the work yourself days before arriving. You upload photos of yourself, used for security and ID'ing photos, as well as images of your passports. The agent scans your passports to confirm it's you after scanning a QR code you got from your check-in, and that's it. The inside of the terminal now it just has seating to wait, including the concierge lounge, but with the slightly late start, we basically boarded immediately.

You board again using the QR code, because they do not issue your key cards in the terminal. They are instead found at your room, which is not available until 1:30 (or immediately in concierge). I'm not sure how they handle room charges at this point, unless you just tell them the room number. I don't imagine there would be a high fraud rate given the surveillance on the ship, so it's probably good enough. They gave us gold stickers to wear in the terminal to identify as concierge, which I didn't understand at first. It turns out that this is in part to get you into the concierge lounge, but then onboard, it's because they do a full-service lunch instead of having you go to the buffet in Cabanas.

As you enter the ship, as before, one of the crew members asks your family name, and they announce on the microphone, "Please welcome the Puzzoni Family!" to the claps and cheers of other crew. I know it seems a bit much, but this really does set the tone for the service that you can expect. This is one of the few times that you experience any kind of crowd control, and it's reminiscent of the early pandemic. They put you on a circle on the floor, and when a certain number of families are in, Mickey and Minnie do a little song and dance on the deck above. Then they hustle you into Royal Palace for lunch, since everyone boarding first is concierge.

Lunch is as fancy as dinner typically is, and the service top notch. Complimentary drinks, too, which is consistent with service in the lounge most of the day. It was a little too fancy and limited for me though, since I don't eat red meat or seafood, so I literally got kids' chicken tenders and steak fries. This poor-poultry thing became a trend, because the buffet offerings have been vastly scaled back. I'll get to that later.

There is no in-person muster drill, and instead you can watch the bits about life jackets and such from your room. But you do have to go to your assembly station before 4:30 and use the phone app to capture the sign at your station, where a crew member can answer questions. This is vastly more efficient than making everyone onboard go to their spot all at the same time.

After tagging our assembly station, we went to our room, where the key cards are in the clip next to the door. Inside they had the standard lanyards, which we find useful, especially when you're wearing things without pockets. The room that we had was more of a standard sized verandah room, but with the concierge upgrades. The carper is thicker and more exotic, the bathrooms use an exotic black tile (which makes shaving hard because it's so dark), better art, better furniture and a much bigger TV. It's definitely a nicer room, but it's not the real benefit of concierge. The location, decks 11 and 12, all the way forward, are the best parts of the room. You also have access to a three-person concierge team that basically can make all kinds of things happen (more on that later). You also have the lounge, where you can get snacks, bottled drinks/wine most of the day, and a more full complimentary bar from 5 to 10 every night. There's also a private outdoor deck, partially covered, with its own hot tub. We used that almost immediately. They also give you the best area possible to watch the fireworks at sea. On our cruise, all of this came with about a 35% premium. Was it worth it? I guess it depends on how much you value and use the extra service. We did quite a bit, but if it was just for status, no, it wouldn't be worth it. I estimate we had the equivalent of $400 in drinks, so that closed the gap a little.

Simon had a chance to buy some stuff through school as gifts for us, but he forgot, and felt pretty terrible, so this is where the concierge folks helped. Diana found a great ornament in one of the gift shops, so she asked one of the concierge folks to get it and charge it to the room (with Platinum discount). Then she got a hold of Simon and set up some scenario where he would understand that he could give us the ornament as a gift, and helped him wrap it. She really went out of her way to sell it and help, and that was fantastic. The service around the ship is always good, but this was next level.

On the Nassau day, where we never get off the ship (and non-vaccinated kids aren't allowed off outside of organized shore excursions), we started the morning with a pedicure. I normally like to get a massage, but we tried something different. I rather enjoyed it. It actually included a hot stone massage for my lower legs, and I'm all about the hot stone. The pedicurist complimented me on my feet, making some stereotypical comment about the feet of men. And of course I got black nail polish, because it's included in the price regardless, and I can feel like a rock star.

We also did another mixology class, which was not the usual hands-on situation because Covid. Still gets you a nice variety of drinks over an hour, and the knowledge of how to make them, for $25 a piece. Totally worth it, always entertaining.

The next day was supposed to be our day at Castaway Cay, the private island, but the weather made it impossible to dock. Winds were in excess of 35 knots (40 mph) with the associated currents. With the wind moving perpendicular to the ship, there was no way in hell they were going to get it into that narrow and shallow channel. I was up on deck for the second attempt, and the water was blowing up on the pier. Fortunately, even though the other three ships were in the tropics, none of them were scheduled to be there the next day, so we returned the next day.

Our actual Castaway day was just beautiful, though the water was impossibly cold. Air temperature peaked at 72, and with the weather the day before, this was disappointing but not surprising. I went back to the ship early with the intention of going back (because of food), but Diana and Simon gave it up too because it just wasn't fun. I did get a couple of hours on the beach though, and that was wonderful.

Now let's talk about the food. The buffet situations have fewer options than they used to, whether it's because of Covid protocols (they serve over the counter, not self-service) or supply chain or just someone made that decision. As someone who only eats poultry for protein, this is a problem. The island menu used to have both Cajun chicken and a breaded spicy option, but the latter was gone, and the former was dry as hell, and not good. Onboard, the Cabanas lunch options were all the same the second and third days, with only some dry "grilled" chicken and tenders. Gone were the carved turkey and robust Asian options. Breakfast was also the same stuff, whereas they used to have red potatoes one day, hashbrowns another, etc., now offering just overcooked tater tots.

When I went back to the ship from the beach to get something at the counter service (a turkey burger that they thankfully were still offering), a officer in the culinary org started chatting with me, and I expressed my frustration about the options. At first he just listened, but then he busted out a note pad and started writing things down, and asked me for my name and room number. That night at dinner, the head server brought us champaign and thanked us for the feedback, assuring us that they took it very seriously. I wasn't being "that guy," and frankly felt a little high maintenance, but they went out of their way to correct for my concern. That feeling of being taken care of is why we've taken 20 cruises with them.

Our dinner service was fantastic as usual, with the best wait staff. They're so reliably excellent. As usual, there was no problem getting the tomato soup I love from the other restaurants. The entrees were tasty and the desserts beautiful. We also did our usual brunch at Palo (free for Platinum members), and it was as usual among the best meals I've ever had. They don't do the normal buffet (because Covid), but have probably about two-thirds of the items available, you just have to ask for them from the list. I'm not a fancy person, but the Palo experience is fancy and I love it.

One of the things that Disney has pushed hard on is reliance on a phone app, something they've also done in the theme parks. This is problematic in some ways because the last thing I want to do on a cruise is look at my phone, but everyone does now because you have to. The experience is, at best, a mixed bag, but mostly not great. We give Simon a little iPod (he's too young for a phone), and using that, we can chat message each other around the ship, giving him the relative freedom to do as he wishes. The problem is that it barely works much of the time. At one point it stopped working entirely, and our concierge friends had to reset something from their end before it would work again. They also have QR codes on tables and in the bars for menus, but the "dcl://" protocol doesn't register correctly on Android phones, making the codes useless. The online itinerary and plans almost never worked for Diana, so if you wanted to check and see what time your pedicure was, good luck. It was even worse on the day they had to swap for at-sea instead of Castaway. Under load, it just didn't work for anyone. What did work reliably was additional optional tipping, viewing your folio, and the chat feature to concierge and/or guest services. The only saving grace is that, unlike the theme park counterpart, this one doesn't drain your battery constantly.

The most difficult part of the cruise this time was the parenting. Simon was difficult at times, especially the middle two days. We're starting to see that it's not just the side effects of ADHD meds, or autism, but it's also the fact that he's right in the tween range and we can see the changes coming. He's a super emotional kid, and now everything seems like it's in a heightened state for him. I love him dearly, but I selfishly don't want to be around him in these situations, especially on vacation. But other times, he was independent and thankful for the cruise and generally fun to be around.

Overall, I was just so happy to be at sea. The sound of the ocean is extraordinary for me, and I'm not sure why. I wonder if it's just because it provides a kind of white noise for me that let's my brain relax. I just love to be there.

I booked a placeholder, which gets us 10% off the prevailing fares, with no specific plans about when we might use it. We're also booked for the inaugural sailing of the Wish this summer, which will be super cool to be on a new ship.

No filter

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 17, 2021, 1:44 PM | comments: 0

The hashtag #nofilter I believe has its origins on Instagram, where someone would post a photo that was so beautiful that they didn't feel like they needed to edit it, or especially in the early days of the service, apply some dumb filter to make it look like film or mess with the contrast or whatever. It seemed particularly popular for sunsets and mountains and such.

But what if we stopped filtering the "ugly" stuff entirely?

One of the more toxic aspects of social media is that it tends to paint an incomplete, and often overwhelmingly positive, picture of a person. I used to mostly discount this phenomenon, because it's not really that different from real life. People present themselves a certain way, though in the analog sense it would typically be with clothes or cars or a big act of confidence to establish that they have all of their shit together. What I had not thought much about is that I have the benefit of having grown up only with the analog version of this. I have the benefit of experience of seeing people for who they are, since real life doesn't filter everything. Younger people who only know life with smart phones don't have this benefit, so it's entirely possible that they perceive the filtered world as reality. That sets up some pretty messed up expectations.

I also tend to not filter things because I'm me. I've been told many times that I'm "direct," that it isn't hard to see where I stand, and this is probably true. It might be a personality choice, or autism, but more than anything I think that it's because the filtering would be exhausting. It's not that I don't filter at all... this blog and Instagram do not paint a complete profile of me, but there are things that would just take too much energy to filter out.

The other, more important reason to filter less, is that we have to work harder at sharing empathy. I get a surprising amount of unsolicited email from total strangers expressing gratitude that I write about parenting, autism, and yes, even my colonoscopy. We all eventually need to have our poop chute evacuated to check for cancer, so why is it that I went into it without having ever had a conversation with anyone about what to expect? We have this illogical cultural expectation that some things are too taboo to talk about, and these standards are completely arbitrary. If you don't think that this is destructive, think about how it's only a half-step away from the non-discussion topics about sexuality, racism and other things considered impolite to share or talk about. That has to change.

Share the beautiful moments, but don't be afraid to share the difficult ones.

The LEGO Titanic is titanic

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 15, 2021, 12:22 PM | comments: 0

I haven't been very consistent about writing about LEGO in the last year, mostly because I've posted time-lapse videos and reviews on SillyNonsense. But it's worth calling out the Titanic as one of the most extraordinary sets ever sold. I mean, it's four feet long when it's done.

My LEGO habit might be getting a little problematic in the last two years. Our spare closet is quite full of sets now, and the Titanic and Millennium Falcon in particular are in huge boxes. I can't think of a better way though to be able to relax and do something not involving a screen. I'd like to go back for second and third builds on some of those. I stashed the Titanic above the TV, where I'll leave it for the next month or so, then disassemble.

Me against the mold

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 5:38 PM | comments: 0

I wish the title of this were a metaphor, like it was about me not conforming to an oppressive world, but I need to talk about actual mold. You know, the black stuff that grows in dark places that you shouldn't breathe in.

The weekend before last, Diana and I were battling some serious sinus pressure. I recall having this problem last winter, and by Monday, I was feeling pretty crappy. Also last year, I cleaned the coils in the HVAC blowers to make sure nothing was growing there. Figuring it has been almost a year, and it smelled funny as we oscillated between heat and cooling, I would do it again. So I bust the units open and find the coils don't have anything visible on them, but the filters are growing black mold in a most serious and health-averse way. Normally, I change these whenever the Nest app tells me to, since it appears to calculate the timing based on system run time. The upstairs unit runs more than the downstairs, so that makes sense. The problem is that, at some point, Nest updated the app, and it turned the notifications off without telling me. Those filters had been in there for almost a year. Yikes.

That night, the sinus pressure went away, though I've still been recovering with some sniffles and a nagging cough since then. I'm pissed at myself for neglecting the filters, as a homeowner of more than 20 years. I should know better.

The bigger problem is that mold is a far more serious problem here than it was living in the Midwest or Pacific Northwest. It's everywhere. In fact, I noticed in my first week here, in an extended-stay, that three days in my toilet started to develop a ring of pink slime. We've been able to mitigate that to an extent (in toilets and the shower) by having a whole-house water filter, but it will appear before you know it. Grout is even harder to keep clean. And the weirdest thing is the black mold growth on toilet seats. We have a bathroom that we don't typically use, unless we have a guest (which we haven't had in almost two years), and Diana discovered today that the top of the seat was covered in mold. It was pretty gross. We've actually replaced all of the standard wood seats with plastic because of this.

And don't forget the sidewalks. You have to pressure wash those at least once a year. Our HOA has a guy do the public areas even more often, and to an extent the curbs. The places in the shade basically turn black. And these fun pavers in the driveways get particularly discolored if you don't clean them periodically.

I guess the mold is #floridalife, so I'll roll with it. But it's funny how in Cleveland I pressure washed my driveway once in ten years, and now it's an annual affair.

The (Family) Prom

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 12, 2021, 9:38 PM | comments: 0

We don't take Simon to a lot of shows, partly because he's 11, and most of them are over his head. But we've been playing The Prom cast recording since we saw it in on Broadway in April 2019, and he's very familiar with it. It's also a show about love and inclusion with a happy ending, and he certainly needs to see more of that. So we decided this season that he should see it.

I just adore this show, and it's funnier than I remember it. It was heartbreaking when they ended the Broadway run (and frustrating that it was denied Tony's despite a ton of nominations). It played really well here, and the cast seemed to be into it. I know some of them even went to Pulse to pay respects. I hope the company enjoyed their time here.

Happy to have this one as another repeat for the Playbill collection, and even more grateful to have it in the "saw the original cast" category.

Confidently swimming

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 4:15 PM | comments: 0

I haven't taken Simon to his swim lessons in a long time, but I'm impressed at how well he does and how confident he is. It's like a different kid compared to when he started.

Another health update

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 12:56 PM | comments: 0

I had another blood draw last week, and follow-up today. The good news is that the boost in levothyroxine has corrected the hypothyroidism perfectly. I suspected this would be the case, because I found myself less interested in napping and I pretty quickly lost a few pounds (before gaining some back by eating my feelings). My general "energy level" is much improved. My cholesterol is also down after just six weeks of being on rosuvastatin, which makes this really the first time in my adult life that my cholesterol has ever been in the normal range. Lots of good news there.

Unfortunately, my triglycerides are actually up. I didn't think about it in the office, but she did tell me it was fine to stop taking the omega-3's I was taking to address exactly that (on the advice of my previous doctor), so I theorize that may account for the change. I theorize that because the Vascepa she's putting me on is another omega-3. All three things, the hypothyroidism, cholesterol and triglycerides are likely a genetic thing, my doctor says.

But this is all pretty good news. If I can get my weight down a little, then my overall risk profile for heart disease goes way down. I have to watch my blood pressure, but it always reads high in the office compared to at home ("white coat syndrome").

Honestly, this is the best I've felt about all these numbers since earlier this year when it was pretty clear that they all sucked. My doctor is pretty firm and direct about all of it, which frankly is something that I need.

Autism and intelligence

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 6, 2021, 3:31 PM | comments: 0

As you might expect, I've had a lot of conversations lately about autism. One of the things that I find continually frustrating is that autism seems to be associated with low intelligence by most laypeople. On the surface of public perception, this may be a justified view. Research shows that while 5% of the population exhibits an IQ score under 70, it's about 30% among people with autism. This inevitably invites two questions. The first is, are IQ tests in some way biased against people who exhibit symptoms of ASD? The second question is, how do you account for the fact that many (most?) of history's greatest scientists and artists were autistic? The math doesn't make sense.

The perception of others aside, this matters because I'm a parent searching for answers for my child. So what then is the reason for Simon's academic difficulty, but not all of the time and not in every subject? When you mix in the ADHD on top, it's even harder to figure out. At this very moment, he's on the verge of meltdown in the other room over homework.

What I can observe in him is not entirely unlike my own experience as a child. He's very curious about the way machines work, he prefers concrete details over abstracts, he's impatient about getting to outcomes quickly. The curiosity is a good thing, and maybe so is the desire to know details over ideas, but the impatience will definitely not serve him. This was one of my biggest problems in learning to code (I was self-taught): I just wanted to put stuff on the screen, so I was slow to learn how the tools were best used, and understanding object-oriented concepts took a long time when I was comfortable with procedural code.

I'm projecting my difficulty on him, which might be wrong, but I think I see intelligence that is not itself impaired, but made difficult by the way in which he needs to learn. When he "gets" something, he can crank through it, but if he isn't there yet, then he finds it challenging to focus, and he very often comes back to things "taking too long," which is code for "I'd rather be doing something else." So much of the challenge for Simon is understanding the reasons he struggles with school, and where accommodations help over accountability. It's no wonder that they symbolize autism with puzzle icons. Maybe I'm being unrealistic that it's a puzzle that can be solved.

So if he's not in the bottom 30%, how do I help him? I don't know. Again, when you throw in the ADHD and the typical personality traits of a pre-teen, trying to work with him can be volatile at best. I do think that some of it is that inability to self-regulate emotions, and I'm hopeful that he's turning a corner there because he's becoming very self-aware when he's not. That's a big deal.

Making content for the algorithm instead of quality

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

Destin from Smarter Every Day posted some thoughts (below) on how the YouTube algorithm may be changing for the worse in terms of what it is trying to emphasize. By now it should be obvious that these algorithms are rooted in seemingly innocuous intent, but end up having pretty terrible side effects. Derek of Veritasium showed how effective click bait is which makes the algorithm even worse. It doesn't seem like a deep mental exercise to figure out that making engagement the highest priority results in the lowest common denominator of quality. I definitely don't think the shorter is better direction helps anything, whether it's video or text. I don't want to be a mindless scroll zombie, I want to stimulate my brain.

This condition, where a few really "good" makers of things that have some value as art, entertainment, education, etc., rise to the top, but ephemeral nonsense dominates, is frustrating. I realize that what I'm saying is wholly subjective. I also acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with "stupid" short entertainment. The problem is that it is, in this case, a zero-sum game when a huge company controls most of the levers to surfacing and facilitating the discovery of the content. The quality loses to the trivial stuff.

I will freely admit that this is also the reason that I find myself apprehensive about creating video for distribution on YouTube, because I don't like this game. I don't need to be famous or make a ton of money (I still give Vimeo money every year just to play a part in its continuation), but I don't want to conform to algorithmic constraints to get it noticed. People seem to forget that YouTube didn't have minimums to monetize video until a few years ago. I would routinely make a few hundred bucks a year for stuff that I put there just because I didn't have to pay for the bandwidth. When I do get around to posting something, it's rarely just some long-form thing I can slap a title on. I tend to edit things and shoot 10x what I need, and that's a lot of time to invest in stuff. When I can, I like to tell a story. I'm not interested in ephemeral things.

I can see how someone might think I'm just a curmudgeon who feels left out, but I can assure you that's not it. I deeply understand how the game, and how to win it. I could do that, but I'm not interested in doing that. It gets back to Destin's point about understanding what your voice is. He's far more sincere and articulate about it, whereas I undoubtedly (maybe slightly intentionally) come off sounding like a hipster. The deeper, and probably naïve thing that I have been saying for years that it's unfortunate that so many people have given up their creations to platforms, which in the blink of an eye can change on you. It's a far cry from the days where you had your own domain names on the Internet and you ultimately controlled your own destiny, relying on word of mouth instead of algorithms. Is this world easier than the old one? I'm not convinced that it is.

Certainly the solution at a personal level is to just make stuff because you enjoy making stuff, and let the cards fall where they may. But making stuff is more fun when you can see some number of people actually seeing it.

When is the pandemic actually over?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 7:12 PM | comments: 0

Simon got his second Covid vaccine today, effectively about 20 and a half months after things started to get weird. There are a lot of feelings about that, starting with the frustration that someone else that we trusted ultimately caused his infection back in October. Diana and I were both double-shot in April, and we've since had the boosters as well. In fact, even before the boosters, we were well inoculated against infection despite Simon getting it. We didn't do anything special around him.

More than half of adults have been "done" since the spring, and I would say that in the general sense, we've engaged in pretty "normal" activity. We haven't done any significant travel, mostly because we didn't feel comfortable putting Simon in less controlled situations, and it's been almost two years since we've left Florida, which totally sucks. But we did renew Simon's passport and we're ready to go.

Does that mean the pandemic is "done" for us? I guess that depends. Variants will continue to occur, but natural selection dictates that the virus will become more transmissible and less harmful to the host over time if it is to survive. Given the massive levels of global infection and death, it seems reasonable to assume that will continue. There's reasonable concern about the new omicron variant because it's so different, and it isn't clear about how sick it makes people, how well the vaccines work against it, who might be most vulnerable to it.

This is frustrating, because it isn't clear when we call this over. However, I don't think there's a definitive end, just varying degrees to which we have to roll with mitigation. As a science enthusiast (is that a thing?), it can be frustrating because some of those tactics don't make a lot of sense. Wearing a mask in a venue where everyone is vaccinated, for example, seems silly since there's no significant evidence of a room full of vaccinated people infecting each other. Testing athletes constantly that are all vaccinated doesn't make a lot of sense either. On the other hand, if you have large working environments, like factories or warehouses, where vaccination is inconsistent, what choice do you have but to require masks and try to limit exposure between people?

The unfortunate thing about the current state of things is that much of the accommodation is intended to protect the folks who aren't vaccinated, mostly by choice. That fosters all kinds of resentment but also sadness, that so many people have died really for no reason. Nearly every death now, at least in the US, is preventable, not just because of the efficacy of the vaccines, but because if everyone played along there would be little to no community transmission in the first place. That's the critically important thing that has to be in place for folks that can't be vaccinated for medical reasons or they're heavily immunocompromised in the first place.

For us, and for now, things feel effectively normal. We're unlikely to get sick or be a vector for transmission. If we have to use masks in certain situations, even if the science doesn't support the situation, we'll do it because that's someone's rules, and we're not going to be dicks about it. At this point it's not ideal, but not a big deal. And we're definitely getting out of Florida for a few days.